Well, that was a little abrupt.
Janell Oberlander hardly had time to accept congratulations after being named interim president for the Gillette Community College District before she was unceremoniously dumped from her previous job.
That may seem logical except that they’re almost one in the same. Until Friday afternoon, Oberlander was the vice president of Gillette College, a position under the Northern Wyoming Community College District.
Oberlander got an email Friday afternoon saying that her new job would be a conflict of interest, so bye-bye. No personal conversation, just an email.
She’ll continue to be paid through Oct. 31 by the Sheridan-based college, but as of Monday, her phone and email were shut off. One could wonder whether her office space could be next — except that it was paid for by Campbell County taxpayers, not Sheridan College.
The sudden dismissal is important because the newly formed college district and the one it separated from may have to work together for as long as five more years until the Gillette Community College District can get accredited on its own.
When Campbell County voters approved the new district in August, NWCCD President Walter Tribley offered immediate congratulations and welcomed the new college district to the state’s community college system.
“It is a great thing to see a community actively supporting higher education,” Tribley said after the vote was counted. “Our Board of Trustees and I are ready to go to work to help the newly created Gillette Community College District become independent and successful.”
As so often is the case, actions speak louder than words.
By abruptly ousting Oberlander, the group in Sheridan just made everything that much more complicated. A conversation about a graceful transition would have seemed appropriate, given the 50-plus years of history between the two towns regarding the Gillette campus.
Oberlander went from being the vice president of the Gillette College and in control of the ins and outs of its day-to-day operation to being named president of the new district — and then losing her say and involvement in its operation even though technically needing to control the day-to-day operation because voters have said it no longer belongs to Sheridan College.
Ever judicious in his comments, Robert Palmer, the chairman of the new college’s board of trustees, called the action “the natural evolution” of the transition process, saying “you can’t be both.”
Trustee Nello Williams was a little more outspoken.
“It didn’t have to occur the way it did. It didn’t have to be that way. He didn’t have to blindside us. He did,” Williams said of Tribley’s actions.
In fact, it was quite reminiscent of Tribley’s abrupt decision in June 2020 to eliminate almost all of the athletic teams at both the Gillette and Sheridan campuses. Coaches were still recruiting players and had no idea what was coming down the pike until they lost their jobs.
It is an understatement to say that it was handled poorly.
So, too, was the NWCCD board’s frosty reception to a group from Gillette who figured out a way to pay for all those athletic programs in Gillette after the cuts were announced.
But that’s also the silver lining.
“Out of all this, we became our own school, we became our own college district so maybe that’s the way it was supposed to be,” Williams said.
The two entities will start work Oct. 23 to try to hammer out an agreement that will cover the transition. It’s supposed to cover basic things like how and when to move college employees, who still work for NWCCD, over to the Gillette district. And it will cover big things like the accreditation, which could take up to five years and means that a great deal of cooperation will be needed between the two entities. Starting that process with enmity is not promising.
If the pettiness continues, we trust that the Gillette College trustees can rise above it.
If nothing else, it confirms that voters made the right decision when they decided it was time to make Gillette College an independent community college district and separate from a district that is showing that it really didn’t have Gillette’s best interests in mind.
Gillette News Record